A Florida Man Comes Back Home

I’m a fifth-generation Floridian born and raised in Pinellas County. I’ve written about Florida for over a decade, so people often ask me about it.

Recently, they’ve been asking if I’m going to leave Florida.

Over the summer, my friend texted me to check in with me about everything going on. She’s moved away with her partner. She told me her partner won’t set foot in Florida because it’s unsafe for him.

This made me think about all the Floridians who feel like this. Like they can’t come back to their community. To their home.

I moved home — to St. Pete – about 1.5 years ago. I’d been teaching at Ole Miss for three years. I loved the job, and I didn’t have plans to leave. I knew I’d eventually be pulled back to Florida like the tide, but I’ve learned to swim with the current.

I didn’t have plans to leave, but then my grandmother’s health rapidly declined. I’m a grandma’s boy. She taught me how to read, how to be bold, and how to sing karaoke.

I found a new job and moved back to Florida in the summer.

Then, I got sad. And COVID. But I’ll skip to the part when I finally left my apartment. 

That’s when I met fellow EAG Kaitlin Crockett — my friend and collaborator (more on that in a later Artist Story). I came across her booth at Indie Flea where she was selling a zine called Sentimental St. Pete. We immediately hit it off. It felt like we’d been friends forever. 

I’ve had a similar experience with other people — artists and writers — in the time I’ve been back home. Our friendships seemed to have always been there.

I realized there was often a common tie: a lot of them had always been there. They’d grown up in Pinellas County. We hadn’t grown up together, but we’d grown up in the same place. We shared a common geography of language.

We knew the beaches that aren’t crowded and had shopped at Wendy’s Closet when it was at the flea market, back when it was a flea market.

We had a shared Florida-ness. 

I center this Florida-ness in my essay collection The Thing about Florida: Exploring a Misunderstood State and Florida Man: Poems, Revisited. I plan to further focus on my home state in future work. 

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